BREAKING NEWS – Ramon Velez Jr., son of the noted Bronx “poverty baron” was in “very” critical condition, his wife dead and two others injured in an early morning fire that swept through their east Bronx home.
Firefighters pulled the four victims from a second story window in the two-story house on Swinton Avenue in the Schuylerville section of Throggs Neck shortly after the fire was first reported at 3:50 a.m. on Friday with a call to 911, fire officials said.
Velez’ wife, Enriqueta, 55, was dead on arrival at Jacobi Hospital, they said, while Velez, 58, was in very critical condition from burns and smoke inhalation.
Also rescued and brought to Jacobi were Velez’ mother-in-law, Marta Morales, 74, and a five-year-old granddaughter, both suffering from smoke inhalation.
The girl was treated and later released, while Morales was listed in stable condition, officials said.
After being stabilized by doctors, Velez was due to be placed in the hospital’s hyperbaric chamber, which force feeds high amounts of oxygen to deal with smoke inhalation cases.
Jacobi’s Burn Unit is one of just three in New York City, and the eight-patient walk-in Hyperbaric Chamber is unique in its size, and allows patients to be accompanied by clinicians during treatment. Its medical staff and technology at the hospitals are especially well-equipped to treat the most serious burn cases.
Twelve fire rigs and 60 firefighters, as well as city ambulances responded to the scene of the all-hands fire.
“The fire was fast, it was just so quick,” said Cleveland Bradley, a neighbor for 15 years. “That fire moved fast, really quickly.”
William Velez (no relation), 71, who got to the fire scene later, said his aunt who lives next door said she was awakened at about 4 a.m. “by all the noise from the fire engines.
“She heard a lot of crashing sounds and thought someone was breaking into her house.”
He said when she ran outside, “she saw firefighters pulling out the four people who were in the house and tried to revive them. They were rushed to the hospital.”
“The firefighters had a hard time because the fire was in the front of the house.”
Velez’ father, a former city councilmember representing the south Bronx, was perhaps better known as the head of a chain of social service agencies under the umbrella of the Hunts Point Multi-Service Agency during the 1970’s and 80’s that serviced a large population of the struggling borough, while enriching himself through a number of government contracts.
At one point when Ed Koch was mayor he labeled the elder Velez “a poverty pimp,” though Koch later apologized to Velez.
His son now serves as president of the South Bronx Community Management Company Inc., a nonprofit started by the elder Velez that manages apartment buildings.
The elder Velez was also responsible for grooming a future generation of Bronx electeds, including Congressman Jose Serrano and Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo.
He died in 2008 of complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
A saddened Congressman Serrano, who visited the younger Velez at Jacobi, recalled how the father led voter registration drives in the South Bronx, formed poltiical clubs and picked candidates to run.
“He put Puerto Rican voters on the map by registering so many,” Serrano recalled, “then he would pick candidates.”
“I am terribly saddened to learn of today’s fire on Swinton Avenue, which has devastated the Velez family,” Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said in a statement. “Ramon Velez and his family were trailblazers in our borough, paving the way for individuals such as myself to get involved in the political process in our borough and our city. To see his family suffering so greatly today breaks my heart.
“I join my staff and all 1.4 million Bronx residents in offering our thoughts and prayers to the Velez family in their time of need.”
Kirsten Sanchez can be reach via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at (718) 742-3394